The attack on Christmas

Daniel Harju

While many good-hearted people struggle to figure out how to afford the necessary purchases in order to uphold good relations with family and friends, others express religious outrage about how a holiday that is significant to Christians came to be referred to as just “the holidays.” No matter if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, agnostic or whatever, the holiday season primarily revolves around a different kind of faith – our beloved consumerism.

Every year, talking head Bill O’Reilly, the far-right quasi-journalist with immense shock value, and others like him, get together and proclaim that there is an “attack on Christmas.” His audience, gullible Fox “News” consumers with a general conservative knee-jerk reflex, is led to believe that Christians, constituting a three-quarters majority of the population, are being persecuted.

This idea of a politically correct conspiracy against Christmas, a supposed attack by liberals to target Christianity, is comical because it is so ridiculously misguided. It is also frightening because it reveals a level of intolerance among the American religious right and the agenda-setting powers of its loudest voices.

In reality, a dense fog of commercialism has clouded people’s ability to see the religious significance of the holidays. The central Christian belief in the importance of renouncing material things is an idea more distant than the North Pole is to Angelenos. Contrary to what O’Reilly and others claim, the “attack on Christmas” does not come from “secular progressives” advocating the use of a religiously neutral term.

Instead, the changes are the result of the heavy commercialization of the holiday itself.

Today, for believers and atheists alike, the holidays are about consumption. Every year Americans buy, give and exchange gifts at an accelerating rate, in a shopping hysteria that resembles more a mental blizzard than a peaceful time of religious communion.

Who in their right state of mind would go home to family and friends without gifts? Shopping with the intention of giving and with the expectations of receiving gifts is such an integral part of our holiday experience that we cannot imagine skipping it.

We assign our individual expectations to what we want from the holiday season. Most of us value the holidays as a time-spend with family and close friends, reminiscing about how much it meant to us as kids. Most of us enjoy the time off work, but the people who work in retail bear the burden of the holiday-shopping rush. For many people, the holidays mean a time of heightened feelings of loneliness.

Interestingly, the first generations of Christians did not celebrate Christmas. The Christian holiday became popularized during the 1800s and is believed to have emerged a lot earlier in history when missionaries, trying to Christianize Europe. Combined the existing pagan celebration of the winter solstice – the darkest day of the year, usually occurring on Dec. 21 – with the birth of Jesus Christ. The reinterpreted pagan traditions that influenced Christmas have been effectively diminished from the American consciousness.

The consumerist nature of Christmas goes against a basic Christian value that one should renounce worldly goods. Abstaining from material things is hardly an important part of the holiday season.

People are free to call the holidays whatever they want, but from a commercial point of view it makes a lot of sense for retailers to use a neutral term that does not alienate potential customers.

Wal-Mart was recently subjected to a firestorm of criticism and threats of a church-led boycott. The controversy was instigated by leaders of the religious-right because of a company policy suggesting that employees greet customers by saying, “Happy Holidays.” Wal-Mart eventually retracted that policy of holiday neutrality and went back to use the term Christmas along with Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, in its sales campaigns.

It is clear that many people get hung up on what to call the holidays. Tolerance is very important, but does it really matter what we call the holidays? People will use different terms to describe the same thing and that is fine. America, which has a complicated relationship with religion and a multitude of different faith groups represented among its population, needs a term “holidays” to ensure that people can speak of the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa season in a way that is respectful to all religious beliefs.

“Holidays” is the best name available because it allows people of different faith to greet each other respectfully. No, there is no plot to attack Christmas. This is just a paranoid conspiracy theory made up by people whose motives we really ought to question.